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Academic Appeals: an introduction for higher education appeals in Ontario

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

By: Hargun Grewal

Every post-secondary institution in Ontario has a process outlined students have to go through if they disagree to a decision made by the college or university regarding their success or failure in meeting an academic standard, this entire process is commonly referred to as an academic appeal. In order to ensure academic appeals remain consistent amongst the various institutions that utilize them, two main values that comprise them need to be considered, natural justice and procedural fairness. Natural justice and procedural fairness are concerned with how a decision is made rather than the end result, they follow the belief that if the process to achieve a decision was fair then the end result is most likely to be fair as well.

Similar to how the academic appeals process varies institutionally, so do how natural justice and procedural fairness are applied in their respective processes. Commonly, there are four main components that comprise natural justice and procedural fairness in an appeals process, these are:

  1. The right to know your case

  2. The right to an impartial/unbiased decision maker

  3. The right to have an opportunity to be heard

  4. The right to receive a decision along with the decision’s rationale

There are many reasons why a student will go through an academic appeal, however, there are two distinct processes, the first is when a student brings up a new case to the university with a decision originally made they now want changed and the other is when the student is required to respond to a case brought to them by the university. Although the latter is not really an “appeal” because a case is arising where a decision is being made for the first time, however, it follows a very similar process.

A student can submit an academic appeal for a variety of reasons, common appeals that students undergo are usually for changing a course grade, rewriting an exam/test, removing transcript notations, withdrawing from courses after the deadline passed, and requesting to come back early from suspensions. Every university’s process to undergo an academic appeal will look different and be specific to that institution, however, due to procedural fairness, there are common standards set amongst all of them that can help you in preparing for one.

The general process normally takes a few weeks to months depending on the severity and urgency of the situation, however, it’s steps usually follow:

  1. Attempting to resolve the situation or case before formally submitting an appeal.

  2. If unresolved, submit your institution’s notice of appeal form to the respective academic office with any supporting documentation. Submitting supporting documentation will usually help as it allows the committee to have additional resources to base their decision off.

  3. The committee reviewing your appeal will notify you that they have received your appeal and convene to discuss the matter.

  4. The committee relays their initial thoughts back to you at which point you are given an opportunity to respond back to them with any additional information or insight. This is your opportunity to be heard.

  5. After receiving your reply, the committee will then convene again to make a decision.

The process of undergoing an academic appeal can be daunting either with the unfamiliar vocabulary in policies or even the size of the institution you are going up against. However, there are some best practices to follow that will help you throughout the process. If you are financially able, hiring a lawyer that specializes in academic appeals and misconduct may be the right path for you as they have strong background experience in what you may be dealing with. Remember, this is your academic record and you will need it to be in good shape when applying to any jobs or schools in the future so make sure to take this into account when considering whether or not you would like support. However, if you decide to undergo the process without external support such as a lawyer, then it becomes your responsibility to understand what is the best way to navigate the appeals process.

Hargun Grewal is in his final year at McMaster University. He has been a student intern with Battick Legal since September 2020.


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